Six Nations 2020: Gregor Townsend says 'door always open' for Finn Russell, but he must reflect on actions
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend insists the “door is open” for Finn Russell to make a return to the country’s Six Nations squad but revealed he had not been in contact with the star stand-off since his departure last week.
Russell left the Scotland team hotel last Sunday night/early Sunday morning after being confronted by management and fellow players over his drinking. He failed to show up for training the following day and met with Townsend for a “two-and-a-half-hour meeting” on the Monday evening.
The 27-year-old former Glasgow stand-off, who now plays for French giants Racing 92 and was, along with former clubmate and new Scotland captain Stuart Hogg nominated for the European rugby’s player of the year award earlier today, was told he would not be considered for the Six Nations opener against Ireland on Saturday but was welcome to stay with the group.
Instead, he headed back to Paris and played in his club’s 27-0 away win over Castres in the French league at the weekend.
Russell had returned to Scotland camp after featuring for his club against Saracens in the Heineken Champions Cup last Sunday and when asked the question every Scotland rugby fan has been asking the past few days ‘what on Earth has happened here?’ Townsend replied: “I don’t know, really, all that happened because I was in a coaches room until around 11.30 at night, but I did say hello to Finn when he arrived with [Saracens wing] Sean Maitland.”
Speaking from Scotland’s pre-Six Nations training camp in Spain, the coach added: “During that time, Finn was drinking, and a couple of players had said to him to stop drinking. When I saw him around about a quarter to 12 he had decided to leave and his parents picked him up he left after about a five-minute conversation with me, and we didn’t see him until the following evening.
“I had a long meeting with Finn on Monday to discuss all manner of things, first of all the consequence of his actions from leaving camp on Sunday night and not being there on Monday. But it was a positive meeting, we left that meeting in a really good place, and at the time I thought he would be back in camp – it didn’t happen and we’ve moved on.
“In terms of where we are now as a team, because we’ve got to prepare for Ireland and that’s the focus of the 34 we’ve got here in Spain. We’ll see after the Ireland game and beyond what happens.
Asked if he had been in contact with Russell, Townsend said: “No.”
But hinted that a way forward could be negotiated, although with a strong hint that the player himself must take responsibility and prove that he is worthy of being brought back.
“The door is open for any player,” said Townsend. “Whether it is a player returning from injury like Sam Skinner, or Matt Fagerson who just missed out on selection, Darcy Graham because we are really disappointed for him that he got injured [knee] in the first day of training when he is in such good form.
“Finn Russell would be likewise – but, obviously, he is not unavailable because of injury but because of what went on and there’s got to be a link to where he would be in terms of with the team. Is he able to live up to the standards expected of a Scotland team player? But the focus is so much on us preparing for Ireland that these are questions for a later time.
“In that two-and-a-half hour meeting I had with him [Russell] on Monday night, Finn was aware of the consequences of his actions and aware that he wouldn’t be involved in Ireland because of that.
“We had a really good conversation after that information was passed to him, and anybody who wants to come into the team, want to put their hand up for selection, form is some of it, ability, and also being able to be with the team and live up to those team standards, so that’s something that someone who is out the team just now or in the team would have to agree to and accept.”